Bogota Zombie Bums

My second hate comment, from “Julian”:

Please get the fuck out. dude, seriously, you’re the only piece of walking trash in that beautiful city,

Wow, he doesn’t know shit about Bogota! Or he has a warped definition of “trash.” He may honestly believe that Bogota’s biggest problem are the gringos with work visas teaching English and going to AA meetings. What this city really needs is more drunks and addicts panhandling in the street!

No, even Julian isn’t that warped. He just saw a limited side of the city. I might’ve said something like that after a few days. You have no idea about the city at that point. I’ve been here five months now and still have a lot to learn.

But after a short stay in La Candelaria taking taxis to party up north every night? You really don’t know shit.

When I heard there were 14,000 indigentes in Bogota, I was skeptical. But you see so many you can’t dismiss it outright. They’re on every block, usually tearing apart trash bags in search of recyclables.

Despite the few, truly needy displaced Colombians, most Bogota street bums are addicts and alcoholics. Drugs are insanely cheap. In America cocaine is expensive enough so cokeheads have to hold a job to stay high. Cocaine is hoarded. Guys take it into bathrooms with only their closest friends. Here it’s cheaper than beer. It’s done in public and shared like cigarettes. Colombian addicts don’t have to be as active as American crackheads. Simply begging and collecting recyclables keeps them high.

You see drug use in the streets. You lose sympathy when you see them smoking, snorting, and drinking out in the open. One time I saw a kid smoking a pipe near a cop on a downtown corner. The cop didn’t bother with him. That kid’s one of thousands.

I’ve been to major cities all over the world. There’s nothing like the drug abuse in Bogota. There may be similar scenes in the worst parts of high-crime American cities, but at least it’s contained. In Bogota you see drug use everywhere. One day I saw a bum, sprawled out on the sidewalk like it was his master bedroom, nursing his crack pipe right there on Avenida Caracas in Chapinero. One time I passed a young kid huddled against the brick wall on my block. He inadvertenly blew a thick cloud in the space I passed through. I smelled crack. Marijuana has a strong scent you can smell a block away. Crack, on the other hand, has a faint smell. You wouldn’t know it if you hadn’t been up close and personal. That’s how close I was to this kid. Just another day in Chapinero.

If Julian gave money to anybody who asked for it during his short stay, he should know that money was up in smoke before he could dole it out to the next one.

Bogota is like Night of the Living Dead. During the day eveything’s fine because there are millions of normal people out and about. But as soon as night falls, zombies come out and normal folks go inside. The zombies prowl the streets with aprovechador eyes.

I got the Night of the Living Dead analogy one night outside my building. An indigente was on his knees, tearing apart a trash bag and rifling through it for goodies. There was another in the middle of the street, staring down a sideblock. And there’s another who’s always walking around talking to himself. He holds a stick in his hand, banging walls and corners as he passes. Zombies!

The worst thing about Bogota bums is their attitude – they have the right to your pockets. You owe it to them. It’s not uncommon for a bum to follow someone for a block or more relentlessly begging.

One day in La Candelaria I ran into a gringo I knew. A zombie bum zeroed in on us. He had long hair and a 2-month shadow, clearly disorientated as to what was going on. He seemed drunk, but maybe just displaying the long-term effects of smoking bazuco. After we refused to give money, he asked for the bread the other gringo was eating. He asked for a piece of his bread. This gringo was weird; I was only talking to him to be polite. He abruptly left to ditch the bum, who gave chase.

I’m writing this on the same day two different gringos from my English institute got robbed in La Candelaria last week. One lost his leather jacket, money, and cell phone, and another lost her purse with EVERYTHING of value she owned except her passport.

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  1. Thanks for a great blog. Reading it is an escape into another life. I visited Cartagena and Cali in the late ’90s and found them intriguing, but better enjoyed at a surface level then known in gritty detail.

    Wishing you all the best,



  2. As a former expat in the 3rd world (india), you have my every sympathy…the panhandling can push you near the edge. But ultimately when you yell at these guys (or hit them) it’s not a good look.

    However much the provocation, it’s still you the rich, well fed, healthy foreigner taking your frustrations out on a dirt poor, under-nourished, ghetto dweller. It’s never something you feel proud of doing-


  3. your blog is great man, I have been devouring it for the past few days. I will be in Bogota on the 5th and have a few days in the Candelaria, because that is all I found online. I got a bunch of cousins here, but I don’t want to get hustled into visiting every last relative etc…
    Where would you suggest that is cool, maybe a lil sketchy, but still something a 1st generation colombian with 95% proficiciency in spanish to adventure? Any cool towns close by(2-4) hours that have interesting things to check out?

    I am also travelling with my wife, who is a total gringa.

    any info would help me out a ton man, thanks!!!


  4. @ natsukashii –
    Great point, but I honestly don’t care about that as much as the risk of running into one I beat up someday when he’s cracked out with a knife in his pocket.

    @ Gustavo –
    Honestly, bumming around La Candelaria and downtown in the evening should fulfill your need for sketchiness. If you want to see more, I highly recommend the Bogota Bike Tour I took, and not just because they gave me a free tour for the review on this blog. Make sure you take the Parque Simon Bolivar tour, or any tour that goes through (A) Parque Tercer Milenio, (B) Zona de Tolerancia, and (C) 7 de Agosto for a glimpse of Bogota grit at arm’s length.

    As far as pueblos, La Calera and Guatavita can both be done in a day but I wouldn’t recommend visiting those unless you’re going to be in Bogota for a while. There’s enough great stuff in the city that you won’t have time to see. Here’s a quick list: Zona Rosa, Parque 93, Usaquen, Plaza Lourdes in Chapinero, La Macarena, and of course all the downtown stuff including Monserrate.

    @ Everyone – Thanks for making me feel like I’m not the asshole here.


  5. Rationalizing a violent backlash to a poor man panhandling once again shows your noble approach to life. 5 months in one location living as a foreginer hardly seems like your opinion qualifies as poignant and valid? You did a good job of your short stay in Arequipa and we welcome you back to try your violence here again. Your foto has been shopped around multiple cities here in Peru and i do hope you make a visit here again! A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and your escapades are living proof of this. Perhaps, you need to re-analyze your mission down here in America del Sur. We did not ask you to come down here with your drunken, animalistic rage. You chose to do this because for some reason St. Louis and the prison system there had caught up to you. I suggest you grow up at age 30 and take a deep look at the monster you are and the way you rationalize your deviant behavior. I do wish you good luck because people can change but i also do suggest yo take caution if you wander back to Peru because your exploits have left a lasting memory amongst some of us natives who do live according to a code and don’t use our alcoholism as an excuse to behave like an ass when we deem fit. Grow up!


  6. @ Mike en Arequipa –

    “animalistic rage” … “prison system” … “monster”? There’s a serious failure in communication here, because I’m a nice guy.

    I had you pegged for a European from a few details in that first comment, but you say “we” and “us natives” so I’ll take your word for it that you’re Peruvian. But now I’m under the impression that you’re a female. The tone of this comment suggests a hormonal balance of the finer gender.

    Anyway, I think we’ve milked this conversation for all we can. Please keep reading though, and feel free to add your input in the future. FYI – I always announce my trips beforehand, so you can put the word out on the street with the Facebook mafia whenever I go back to Peru.


  7. I support you Mike en Arequipa!!

    We need to get rid of the foreign trash that comes to Peru. Maybe we should organize a kind of “Witch Hunt” type of thing. =]


  8. Excellent blog! There’s not much that’s worth a damn out there on SA. I’ve been doing this expat gig for some time now (I’m 53 and still chasing/catching more than my share) in SA – I’ve found it to be a 70/30 deal. 70 good and 30 – the shit’s. As long as you can keep those numbers, it’s worth it. I’ve been en BA for 4 years and I’m headed north to Colombia – I’m just ready for a change. When the Portenas start appearing like the gringas I flew 6k miles to get away from…it’s time to leave. BTW, you got most of your BA review right, except for the women. While certainly hot and available, they are much more work and generally lower quality than you’ll find in Colombia or Venezuela. The real hot ones belong to a “club” that none of us will gain entrance to, unless you have a lot more coin than most of us. All in all, I’ve found SA to be a goldmine, albeit a mine with some scumbags stealing the gold. I’m from Detroit, another midwest shithole. I feel your pain. I should make my way through BOG some time in March. We should meet up and compare lies.


  9. Hey Dude,
    I live in Bogotá as well, have lived here for the last year. If not having a problem with the bums interests you, you have an attitude that is incompatible with that goal. I live on Caracas in Chapinero and am all over in all kinds of situations. While I am not saying you have to stare at the ground when you pass them, your confrontation here tells me something. All it requires is a “perdón no llevo sencillo” or a “perdón la próxima vez vacan.” You are looking for this interaction. I also understand that your reaction stems from the fact that you care. But, let’s say, taking one for the team, be they foreigners or foreigners and Colombians and decent folks who are bothered by indigentes all over the world, and rebelling against them doesn’t do anyone any good. I think you need to take the next step and forget about them or do something about it or just be at peace with the situation! Also, I have personally experienced caring about this, and got sarcastic and ended up almost with a knife through my throat so be very careful. You know these guys have nothing to lose and us everything.


  10. @ GROB –

    Back in the States, I got out of the habit of telling bums “I don’t have any change” and the like because I felt uncomfortable lying to them.


  11. One of my brothers has a pretty effective technique for dealing with bums.

    When he sees one is winding up to ask for change, he’ll blurt out to beat them, “EXCUSE ME, DO YOU HAVE ANY CHANGE?!?”

    It catches the vast majority off guard.

    Fuck it’s funny, LOL..


  12. “The worst thing about Bogota bums is their attitude – they have the right to your pockets”

    This true for most Colombians without a higher education. There’s something about the culture that says if someone has more than you, they should give it to because you have less. This is (partly) why it’s rare that the poor make much effort to help themselves, culturally they are told they help should be given to them. THAT’S how Latin governments deal with their poor. They don’t offer them incentives to help themselves, they just throw them a few bucks when election time rolls around.

    I hold up fingers when I say no. When I get to three fingers I ask “cuanto más veces necesito decir no?”


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